Cape Coral Purple Martin Project

Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife is fortunate to have a member, Cheryl Anderson, who is an expert on the Purple Martin, and has been a Purple Martin “landlord” for over 30 years.

Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family and thousands of people erect Purple Martin houses to attract this fascinating bird. Their speed, agility and aerial acrobats have fascinated people for years.

Purple Martins are found throughout the temperate climates of North America, and breed mostly in the eastern portions of North America.

Purple Martins are cavity nesters.  With fewer and fewer dead trees available to find suitable homes, Purple Martins have thrived on artificial housing, installed by man. Almost everyone is familiar with the Purple Martin house, high up on a pole, but few people know anything about this interesting bird.

Here in Cape Coral, you can almost set your watch by the arrival of the first male Purple Martins, who arrive in early spring searching for suitable housing or returning to their nest from the previous year.  Thanks to Cheryl’s enthusiasm about these birds, Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife has installed artificial gourd racks at both Rotary Park and Sirenia Vista Park.  Rotary Park has twenty artificial gourds on two racks that are completely occupied with nesting pairs of Purple Martins.  Recently, an additional twelve nesting gourds have been placed at Sirenia Vista Park [MAP] in Northwest Cape Coral.

To learn more about these interesting birds, check out the News-Press article:

Purple Martin School Comes to Cape Coral

By Cheryl Anderson

Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife

    After two successful seasons of purple martins at our local park, the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife decided it was time to make a bigger statement for the purple martins in our City.  With the help of a grant from PMCA we installed a 12 gourd aluminum rack with pulley system.  We wanted a rack which would be easy to raise and lower for education purposes.  We really wanted to start educating the local children about these special local birds.  Cape Coral, Florida is an ideal place for purple martins as we are a warm tropical climate with lots of insect food nearly all year.  Cape Coral is also a City built on over 400 miles of canals.  Almost any good purple martin shelter erected on a residential dock will easily attract purple martins the first season.  Another plus for the purple martin and the landlord in our community is the lack of house sparrow competitors in the area.  We do have some starling competitors, but they are easily discouraged by crescent door openings.

Cape Coral is also blessed with several families who home school their children.  Many of these parents put a great emphasis on educating their children about wildlife in their natural local setting.  One such family were the McDonoughs: six children ages 2-16 and their interested and inspirational Mother, Kathy.  What a delight to see children excited and learning about Mother Nature’s wonders.  We even had a real Easter egg hunt (for purple martin eggs) on the Wednesday before Easter.  All of the children, from 2 year old Levi (who does not like to wear shoes) to 16 year old Elizabeth, who wrote the attached article looked, counted, cleaned, changed nesting material and generally managed a successful colony.  We managed to fledge 27 babies from our new gourd rack system.

Our success can also be measured by the number of new purple martin colonies have been established in our City over recent years.  At least 19 new colonies have been erected and occupied over the past 4 years.  Our local newspaper has published several articles about the birds and our Purple Martin School. (See above) We look forward to the next nesting season which starts with some of earliest arrivals to North America.  Our first birds in 2012 made their appearance on January 21st.

 Bird School

by Elizabeth McDonough

June 27, 2012

One day in March my mother announced to me and my five siblings that we would be going to a park to study and learn about birds. My younger brothers and sisters were excited about it, but me being a teenager, already knew a lot about birds. I wasn’t really thrilled to spend every Wednesday afternoon doing what we called ‘bird school’.

When we arrived I thought I was going to be bored.  There were a couple of other families there too. We all introduced ourselves and to my surprise we went outside. We walked a ways to a pole with twelve white bird houses. They were shaped funny. I later learned that they are called gourds. If we didn’t put up the gourds for the birds, they wouldn’t have a place to nest. The birds are called Purple Martins, but they aren’t really the color purple. They are black and blue. So we brought the gourds down and put pine straw in them. So that the birds could quickly make a nest. Cheryl, a lady that works at the park, told us that the Purple Martins that would be in the twelve gourds were going to be first time parents. She told us that we will check inside the gourds every Wednesday afternoon. When the birds lay eggs we will be able to count them. When they hatch, then we will count the babies, and look at how big they have grown. I started to get excited.

For the next two weeks we saw no change in the gourds. On the third week we saw leafs in some of the gourds. Cheryl said that the leaves meant that the birds are getting ready to lay eggs. A couple of weeks later, on the Wednesday before Easter, one of the children unscrewed the top of a gourd, peered in, and with wide eyes exclaimed that there was an egg in there. We all rushed to see and looked in the gourd and saw the perfectly, white egg lying on red and brown oak leaves. There were more eggs in two other gourds. My nine year old sister Sarah told me she had thought that the eggs were going to be purple. Our anticipation grew every week. Like a first time parent, we couldn’t wait till the eggs hatched. We were surprised to see that there were no mother or father birds sitting on the eggs. We saw a few purple martins in the sky, but not a lot. Cheryl told us that the birds that stay around are the babysitters. The rest of the flock was out looking for food, which are flying insects.

The reason we went in the afternoon was so that we wouldn’t disturb the flock. If we went in the morning or evening, we would have to deal with the whole flock.

One Wednesday one of the parents didn’t leave the gourd, so that when we opened the lid, instead of eggs, there was a full grown bird. It surprised us all. We went every Wednesday wondering how many eggs there would be. One day I got to open the last gourd and to my excitement and surprised there was five baby birds. We observed that they were only about three days old. We were all so happy. My brothers and sisters were so excited about it that, they told our friends and family. Apparently the news of the baby birds spread to the animals as well, because one week we found a tree frog on the pole, and it was there every week. The news of the birds’ arrivals even went in the city newspaper. We all enjoyed going to the park to see how big the babies had gotten. Like what every parent goes through, one week they were there and the next they were gone. One by one every bird left. We were all sad they left, but we can’t wait till next year and do it all over again. When I asked my five siblings if they want to do ‘bird school’ next year, they couldn’t have said ‘yes’ faster. As for me, a sixteen year old teenager, I can’t wait till next year; because someone gave are family our own Purple Martin house. I look forward to doing ‘bird school’ and I can humbly say that I don’t know everything about birds, and I look forward to learning even more.



January 10, 2013

Updates to the Purple Martin Project

Below are the statistics of what was seen in the Purple Martin houses when they were checked by the Purple Martin School.